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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Conifer Plantation


General natural community overview

Conifer plantations make up a significant part of the forested landscape and receive a high degree of management emphasis. They encompass a variety of conifer species, primarily red pine and white pine (Pinus resinosa and P. strobus), but also may include jack pine (Pinus banksiana), white spruce (Picea glauca), and tamarack/larch (Larix laricina). Conifer plantations are not a natural community tracked by the Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI), but are described here to present a more complete picture of forest types in Wisconsin, as well as to illustrate how managers can increase habitat suitability for a greater variety of species within this community type if desired.

Conifer plantations generally are associated with few Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), though they are used by some species, depending on tree size, density, and landscape context. Plantations differ significantly in the composition of secondary species (other non-target trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants) depending on site history, site preparation, and management regime, and may range from very low to moderate diversity. In general, high floristic and structural diversity is associated with higher animal diversity.

On dry sites, very young jack pine or red pine plantations may resemble pine barrens structurally. However, practices such as the use of herbicide on competing vegetation reduces floristic diversity and limits usage by SGCN otherwise associated with pine barrens. Occasionally, conifer plantations on dry sites may fail (in part or completely), producing longer-term barrens-like structure with potential to provide habitat to barrens-associated species (e.g., Kirtland's Warbler).

Landscape context is important for many SGCN that use conifer plantations for at least part of their life cycle, with some preferring stands near other forest or savanna habitats (e.g., northern dry forest, pine barrens, or oak barrens). As conifer plantations mature past normal rotation age, they may develop habitat attributes similar to late-seral northern dry-mesic forests or northern dry forests and support SGCN more typically found in those forest types. Examples include nest trees for Northern Goshawk or winter habitat for Spruce Grouse. Management of conifer plantations is a potential source of impact to SGCN and their habitat, but the nature and intensity of management in turn determines the nature and extent of the effect. Herbicide use when establishing plantations can be detrimental to plant and animal species. In addition, furrow and trench planting at least temporarily disturbs groundlayer grasses, forbs, and associated SGCN. Use of established best management practices and integrated approaches increases the role of conifer plantations as potentially suitable habitat for SGCN, and additional research and monitoring will continue to improve habitat over the long term.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Conifer Plantation natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Kirtland's WarblerSetophaga kirtlandii2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis2
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis2
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus1
Connecticut WarblerOporornis agilis1
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus1
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera1
Gray JayPerisoreus canadensis1
Hooded WarblerSetophaga citrina1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi1
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1

American MartenMartes americana1
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus1
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1

Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Asclepias ovalifolia Dwarf Milkweed 1
Vaccinium cespitosum Dwarf Bilberry 1


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Conifer Plantation, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


Conifer Plantation Photos

Conifer Plantation Photo

Red pine plantation with a sparse understory.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2022